Lawsuit to stop housing project seems frivolous |

Lawsuit to stop housing project seems frivolous

In the United States, citizens have the right to file a lawsuit for just about any reason. But that right, like others, carries with it an enormous responsibility; just because someone has a right to do something doesn’t mean the action is ethically or morally just.

In our eyes, the lawsuit filed by neighbors of the former Boomerang Lodge property in Aspen’s West End is an example of the countless frivolous lawsuits that plague the nation’s court systems. Before City Hall public hearings on the matter of turning the mostly vacant West Hopkins Avenue site into an affordable-housing development began in late 2010, opponents of the project already were dead-set against the redevelopment. Through the course of nine exhaustive government meetings during the first half of 2011, city officials heard the critics’ concerns and required the developer to scale back the project substantially. Yet, despite the partial victory, opponents decided to file a lawsuit anyway.

We’re having trouble visualizing exactly what the opponents are afraid of. Will the 40-unit complex become a haven for gypsies, tramps and thieves? Hardly, given the stringent Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority rules for securing work-force housing in the area. Is the building too big? The developer, at the behest of the City Council, scaled back the project from four stories to three and broke it up into separate sections, abandoning the original monolithic design and adding more green space.

Will the complex, if it’s ever built, burden the quiet neighborhood with parking problems? Thirty-three spaces for vehicles will be underground, leaving about a dozen spaces as head-in spots near the only remaining lodge structure that was saved because of its historic value. Informal and formal parking studies also showed that the neighborhood isn’t overburdened with vehicles taking up spots on the street during tourist seasons or otherwise. The council also stipulated that owners of five of the planned units would not be allowed to keep a vehicle near the premises.

So why, exactly, have some neighbors joined forces to file suit to hinder the development’s progress? The overriding (and at the same time, underlying) reason, which critics won’t acknowledge publicly, is a fear that their property values will suffer. They also believe the quiet, family-centered character of the area would change with the arrival of more Aspen worker bees (some of whom are also seeking a family-friendly place to live). And those who already reside in affordable-housing units in the West End and elsewhere have expressed concern about the marketability of their own homes with the addition of more units to the local inventory.

These may seem like selfish reasons, but they are understandable. No one wants to wake up to the sounds of jackhammers and other construction noises. No one wants to face the prospect of having to circle the block two or three times to find a parking spot near their home. No one wants to spend six months to a year trying to sell a unit when it could be sold in less than three.

However, aside from the temporary reality of construction noise, the concerns are only fear factors to sway neighbors over to the side of the critics and aren’t necessarily grounded in fact.

The lawsuit takes aim at the City Council for upzoning the property to allow a higher density on the site. It also makes other claims, including a lack of due process based on information that was added to the land-use ordinance at the eleventh hour (and was subsequently stricken from the ordinance because the city and developer acknowledged that the addition did, indeed, arrive late to the table). It also says the rezoning doesn’t comply with the 2000 Aspen Area Community Plan, contrary to the opinions of city planners, who note that the community has yet to reach its “upper goal of 1,300 new affordable-housing units” as defined in the plan.

We know they won’t, but we would like to suggest that the plaintiffs drop their suit for the overall good of community work-force needs and to allow the judicial system to deal with more legitimate matters. The act of good will would help move the project forward, giving the developer a chance to secure much-needed financing, and would show prospective residents that they aren’t moving into a place where they aren’t wanted.

We wonder: Will the lawsuit-happy atmosphere that seemingly surrounds every city decision ever dissipate?

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